Sunday, March 20, 2016

"A Little More Mindful," a poem for Palm Sunday, Mary, and Athena

Downtown churches celebrate Palm Sunday, corner of 9th
and Broadway, Columbia, MO, 2015. Photo by Aliki Barnstone 

A Little More Mindful

—busy yourself with your daily duties, your loom, your distaff…
for war is man's matter…
—Iliad, Book VI

If I could be a little more mindful,
groom my dogs’ fur, remember
to shelve my books, shut the closet
and cabinet doors, hide away
my mess of clothes and dishes,
and graciously address every annoyance
(or worse than annoyance), perhaps
my sandals would glide up marble steps
and I’d find myself idle,
holding my peace, my desperate
thoughts left to themselves
at the bottom of the hill, while I turnover
in my palm some stones that hold
the spirits of those who do not cry out
praise for a king riding a donkey,
clothed in garments his mother wove,
her design covering his flesh from birth
until he hugged his shroud
on a road strewn with rags and palms
and wept over the city:
                         “If only you knew
on this day those things creating peace.”

Centuries before his word, their spirits dwell
in rubble, for countless wars
knock stone from stone.
They perished so long ago, their wanderings
and homes are the work
of archeology. Their pots are dust
the Athenian shopkeepers sweep away
each morning, along with the art
of their looms: the saffron
and hyacinth yarns spun for the owl,
chariot and wingéd horses
on Athena’s raiment, the story-cloths
on which the Fates dance and lament,
and teach child-bearers
             to weave defiance in a double purple web,
their textile and text incomprehensible to men.
Soldiers cannot divide the seamless robe
passed from mother to daughter,
mystery in a single thread.

--by Aliki Barnstone, forthcoming in New Letters 
and in her book, Dwelling, forthcoming with the Sheep Meadow Press, 2016

Athena holding a helmet and a spear, with an owl. 

Attic red-figure lekythos. 
between circa 490 and circa 480 BCE. 
Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
NOTE: “A Little More Mindful”: The biblical accounts of Palm Sunday are found in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19. Luke 19:42 Jesus says, “If only you knew on this day those things creating peace.” (The translation is Willis Barnstone’s.) Jesus’s seamless robe appears in John 19:23. In some traditions, the Virgin Mary wove Jesus’s seamless robe, and he wore it his whole life; symbolically, Mary clothed Jesus in flesh. For more on Athena and story-cloths see Evy Johanne Hǻland, “Athena’s Peplos: Weaving as a Core Female Activity in Ancient and Modern Greece,” Cosmos: The journal of the Traditional Cosmology Society 20, 2006: 155-182.

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